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With respect and warm wishes.
There was no epiphany, no enlightenment - unless you define enlightenment as no enlightenment, in which case there was a smorgasbord of enlightenment - there was just this teacher with a sense of 'things' emerging; probably out of weariness with the autonomic toll, the irascibility, the distractibility, the caught-up-ness, the addictive tendencies, the shouting at my kids, the shouting at other people’s kids, the shouting at the parents of other people’s kids, the passive aggression, the muttering at drivers on a particular stretch of road in a small patch of a county in a small country that was already in the throes of losing its collective mind.
Then there was rumination - the yammering, yelping, yapping, inner voice of rumination - until it got to the point where I had to ask: who the hell are you talking to anyhow?
Thankfully, science offered some respite, with evidence for mindfulness as a simple, consoling reality. For instance, science reveals that the 'voice' has been around as a default mode for a squillion years. That the voice is nor 'you' per se, but more to do with brain evolution, as well as a simple arising in conscious awareness. Just getting to know this is a good place to start sensing the sense of mindfulness. Plus, knowing it's got something to do with a design helps too. It helps dispel the myth of it being some religious thing, or some process of emptying the mind, or some method of chilling out. It’s actually more mundane than that: it’s just common sense. Although common sense - as a wit once put it - is not so common.
Thankfully, mindfulness is good at elucidating - or riffing upon - common sense themes. For instance, the voice in your head? Turns out that's nothing more than a self-referential iteration of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’. Mindfulness also helps you realise that you can tame the impetuous, somewhat scowling, saboteur that is your puppy dog mind: although you’ll fail time and time again to do so. However, instead of getting desperate or frustrated about such sabotage, you'll learn to cultivate some curiosity about your perceived sense of failure to control such waywardness. Your mindful life will also encourage you to practice something called 'beginner's mind'. Oh, and 'acceptance'. You'll be told that this is simple to do. But then you'll find that it’s precisely its simplicity that makes it so hard. Such awareness makes for a mindful life.
Your mindful life is also - whisper it gently - slightly Jedi-like. Which appeals to the hero in me. As I'm sure it will appeal to the hero in you.
Then there's the piece of it called meditation. Which brings us back to accidental enlightenment. Here's a quote I like - “Enlightenment is an accident—but meditation makes us accident-prone.” So maybe meditation is enlightenment boot camp. It's certainly reps for the mind; a kind of training ground for responding rather than reacting; which maybe what enlightenment is all about. Did you want enlightenment to be something more? Either way, meditation is possibly the key. Mind you, it's what I particularly struggle with: keeping up the practice, skipping the odd day here and there, convincing myself that a lie-in can double-up as a body scan. But it's best not to give yourself a too hard a time about it. Just begin again. And again, and again, and again. Or, as I heard a teacher say, just sit until you can't sit any more, then sit for one more breath.
Of course, you could go for the cognitive approach by acquiring a bunch of heuristics to bail you out. But that’s hard work. Not only that, it’s cognitive overload. It’s better to start with what your body is telling you.
Ah, yes. The body. Remember the body? The piece of kit you’re attached to? You woke up with it this morning. Then promptly forgot all about it. Your mindful life will teach you that there’s a lot of wisdom in this guest house of yours. A lot of embedded poetry. The problem is, as the oft-quoted Joyce phrase reminds us, we live a short distance from our bodies. Then we shoot off down some conceptual highway... thinking this, thinking that ... until our thoughts think us. But it’s the body that will help you navigate the slipperiness of attention you’re experiencing now, as you attempt to stay focused on reading these words. In fact the body is where the work starts. If you practice detecting its signals you get to move toward an embodied sense of the attitudes of mindfulness: attitudes that distinguish mindfulness from other states of conscious awareness, such as flow states. For sure, flow states are profound but they don’t operate under conditions of kindness, curiosity, and compassion: just ask a serial killer, or any of the nefarious operatives employed by Mohammad bin Salman. I’m sure those guys experienced profound flow states - sinewy flow states - but they hardly made the world a better place. And that’s the ultimate thing about mindfulness: the way it dismantles the ego through its cumulative cultivation of compassion towards yourself and others. Its inwardness means nothing unless it leads you toward a willingness to be outward. Its 'metta', or loving-kindness, really does have the potential to make the world a better place. And that’s not fluffy. It could well be that compassion is part of our design. It’s just that we’re neglecting it, or we've forgotten about it. It could be we’ve lost some essential part of our better selves. But it’s eminently salvageable. Mindfulness will help you remember this. Remember your basic goodness.
It will help you remember this too: that a better world can start with you and the basic goodness of your mindful life.
Isn’t it good to think that your mindful life - right here, right now, in this present moment - can do all of that?